A groove must start somewhere, and the Phillies can only hope that their 6-1 victory is that place. Their rotation may no longer be the greatest of all time, but it surely isn't a unit that should spend the better part of a month pitching to an ERA that pushes 6.00. Not when you factor in the far-less-surprising struggles of the bullpen and offense. Not when the Phillies need their supposed strength to play the part.
Their struggles are not confounding, at least not when you acknowledge their susceptibility to the same workplace frustrations as you or I. Over the last month, we have seen plenty that suggests the problem is more malaise than mechanics. We have seen a starter trade words with a hitter in the dugout. We have seen a closer eviscerate an umpire. We have seen the body language, the disbelieving stares, the impatient paces behind the mound.
Rich Dubee has seen it too. He understands it. And if you ever see him sharing a private moment with a member of his staff, there is a chance he is discussing it.
"Stay in your own house," the Phillies pitching coach said before Thursday night's win, reiterating the message that he imparts to his flock. "Control what you can control. Execute pitches. Don't get caught up in a broken-bat hit or a call not being made or runs not being given. You don't have control over that as a pitcher. You don't have control over winning games. All you can do is execute pitches and grind and grind and grind."
On Thursday night, Blanton did all of the above, throwing 111 pitches in his second complete game of the season. The moment when it could have melted down came in the second inning, when the righthander threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle to Trevor Plouffe. The Twins third baseman treated this pitch with the same regard as he had 10 others over the previous 19 games, crushing it into the seats for a home run. Just minutes after Ty Wigginton had given the Phillies a 1-0 lead with a solo shot of his own, the game was tied, and the words that Dubee spoke before the game bubbled to the top of your consciousness.
"When you're not getting runs, you're trying to prevent giving up one," he had said. "When you get a bunch, you think it's the end of the world and you've got to hold onto it. We just haven't been in sync. One starter thinks, ‘I've got to be the guy tonight.' When that doesn't happen, the next guy thinks, ‘I've got to be really good.' It's just been a mishmash of all kinds of stuff. Focus. We get distracted easily. We press, absolutely."
After allowing a two-out double, Blanton got Jamey Carroll to line out to end the frame.
"That's the key to pitching sometimes," said Blanton, now 6-6 with a 4.93 ERA. "There are going to be guys who get on base, and you are going to give up hits, and you are going to give up multiple hits in an inning, but the key is to limit the damage. Sometimes it's hard to do. You're always trying to. But sometimes that's the key to throwing good and not throwing good, just making a couple of pitches with runners on."
Maybe things would have turned out differently if the Phillies had been visiting a National League park, and Jim Thome had been sitting on the bench instead of serving as the designated hitter. Maybe the situation they faced in the top of the third inning — runners on the corners, one out — would have ended like so many other have this season. But on Thursday night, the Phillies were at Target Field, and their 41-year-old tater-masher was at the plate, and the result was a three-run home run that regained the lead.
From that point on, Blanton cruised. He used a good fastball to set up his breaking pitches, striking out seven while walking none. Later, he acknowledged that he got away with a couple poor pitches. Then again, good fortune was due.
Now, it is on to Toronto, where Vance Worley will follow Blanton and Cliff Lee will follow Worley and Kyle Kendrick will follow Lee, and if you squint you can almost see a .500 record by the off day. One year ago, the Phillies built a 102-win season on the backs of such streaks.
"Every winning streak starts after a loss," Blanton said, his tone upbeat. "Right?"
Contact David Murphy at email@example.com or on Twitter @HighCheese. Read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese